For about two weeks in August 2013, I was alone on a hill in Nkwelle Ezunaka, Anambra State. I was a corps member working as a teacher in a school that was on holidays. All corps members had travelled for vacation, but I had to return weeks before resumption because there was a problem with my allawee that I had to sort out or go hungry. A few days after I entered the house, the electricity supply developed a fault, so I spent the days alone, in darkness, reading One Hundred Years of Solitude.
I remember this vividly because I blogged about it all at the time. This was still early days of my writing, which I did it with a certain wide-eyed enthusiasm that is rarely present in my work—or life—these days. In writing, I was quick to look for lessons, to wrap occurrences into narrative for my benefit and that of the reader. It was also easy to reach for humour.
In an essay I read recently in Aeon titled ‘I am not a story‘ that argues against the general thought that we are all storytellers, the writer states:
“But many of us aren’t Narrative in this sense. We’re naturally – deeply – non-Narrative. We’re anti-Narrative by fundamental constitution. It’s not just that the deliverances of memory are, for us, hopelessly piecemeal and disordered, even when we’re trying to remember a temporally extended sequence of events. The point is more general. It concerns all parts of life, life’s ‘great shambles’, in the American novelist Henry James’s expression. This seems a much better characterisation of the large-scale structure of human existence as we find it. Life simply never assumes a story-like shape for us. And neither, from a moral point of view, should it.”
I do not know about that end, about the morality of a reluctance to fit life events into neat narratives. This is, in part, because of converstions I have had recently with W and Oz—both friends, one old, the other new—two of the firmest believers I know in the consequence of things and how nothing happens just for the sake of it.
While I’ve found myself agreeing with both friends, because they’re much wiser than I am, there’s part of me that wonders if it wouldn’t have been better if I was reluctant to read meaning into the patterns I was seeing in Anambra—or believed I saw. In jumping at the obvious conclusions, perhaps we are closing ourselves to opportunities to think differently about events around us.
Two weeks was a short time to get accustomed to solitude in Anambra, but often, these days, especially on evenings when I’m beaten by the rain in a Lagos bus plodding through traffic, watching commuters on the bridge trying to achieve on foot what we can’t in cars, I think back to those days in Anambra and how I’d give anything to return. On those days, I feel like a creature of the country stranded in the city.
I find my self wishing for a second chance at sustained solitude. I hope for a reason to go live in a place like the Enugu of Immaculata’s pictures. Small towns held in stasis, streets where silence isn’t a rarity. Places that seem simultaneously dead and filled with life like creatures preserved in formaldehyde.
If given that opportunity to go away, I’d pay more attention to the details. I’ll be patient with the darkness of the night, the phantom footsteps in the rooms, the mornings I bathed in the open behind the lodge because I was certain no human would pass through, and the goats that were my only companions. Perhaps, in my second chance at solitude, I would gather enough material to write a Nigerian Walden.